Bing: US-Centric, Poor Australian Search Results

Posted by on Feb 20, 2012

I was kicked into action on this having seen this image comparing a side-by-side of a search on [OH Peak] that was shared online over the weekend:


Click the image for embiggened.

Note that Google places a fair amount of surety in the idea that a search for [OH Peak] is related in some way to infrared spectroscopy (and hey, for all I know it might be completely missing the mark, I know nothing about infrared anythings.)

Bing, meanwhile, seems to be positively confused — sent on a glitch-cycle thinking that because the search contains OH, the searcher is looking for something in Ohio.

Bing’s results here are abysmal. They’re extremely US-centric, which makes things very messy for a non-US searcher (which, sorry Bing, is actually most of the world.)

This is a core problem with Bing: it’s not able to nationalise and be relevant.

Firing up to play with some searches, I first noticed that it “thinks” I’m in the UK, and not Australia at all:

Bing sorry where are you?

Er…. pardon? The UK is literally at the opposite end of the planet, and Bing thinks I’m located there. Okay, great.

Manually fixing up my location, let’s then try a search on [Myer], one of Australia’s largest department store chains. If I’m searching for [Myer] then chances are I want to buy from them, and given that they have a lot of bricks-and-mortar stores, maybe I want to cruise out in my Batmobile and head there. What’s Bing going to tell me?

So the first result is, great. And I can “search within” Myer if I want to. Also great.

But after that, why show me a map of Myers Flat, Victoria? A place name I’ve never heard of in a part of Victoria I’m nowhere near that’s only been returned to me because of a partial-match on the town’s name?

Really? Is that the best we can do?

In third place it’s the Wikipedia page for Myer, just in case my query is research-driven (0.1% of the non-academic population) instead of purchase-driven (85% of the whole population, at a guess.)

Overall, these aren’t very useful. Take a look at what Google returns on the same search:

So what have we got here. We’ve got the main SERP snippet (which oddly enough has a tidier description than what Bing was returning) plus a reasonably good set of Sitelinks dropping me right into popular departments and site sections. This is followed up by a set of Places results that are nothing to do with Myers Flat, Victoria: they’re actual stores! Close to my geolocation!

It’s all well and good for us to compare these side by side from an industry perspective and comment on how Bing does an extremely shoddy job of forecasting intent compared to Google.

We can also say that — and this is my favourite little beef about Bing –it fails spectacularly at Search Utility. On almost every query you throw its way, Bing will treat it in an extremely simplified way. It’s a SEO-bizarro-world where exact match domains still rule and the inclusion of the capital letters OH always means Ohio.

The key issue however is not how people in the Search industry rate Bing’s results. It’s how actual web users find them. Bing is presented to the world as an alternative (let’s forget their early claim, now quietened, to be a “decision engine”.)

They want people to see their product as a way of finding on-message content for their query, without all the fluff. And all it takes is even cursory use to demonstrate just how rudimentary Bing’s linguistic parsing.

To the average Australian web user, it’s a disconnect. Want another example? Look at how a search on [Go Pies] confuses the hell out of Bing but Google understands it’s a query related to AFL.

Case in point. Bing needs to seriously review the way it’s handling “international” queries. Users are not idiots, and if they keep receiving useless search results then they’ll vote with their mice and head back on to their defacto search provider, Google.